When I spoke with my parents on the phone earlier today, they told me they had just gotten back from pumpkin shopping. My dad was decorating the front yard with hay and cornstalks and pumpkins, along with some fake ghosts and goblins and such, while my mom scattered fake spider webs across the fireplace and little bowls of candy corn around the kitchen inside the house.
My dad said it was a beautiful fall day today in Wildwood. He said it wasn’t too hot, and it wasn’t too cold. The breeze rolling off the ocean was just right. And in the midst of this conversation, I heard a noise in the background—a rather loud noise. I asked my dad what was going on, and he told me he was trimming floppy branches off the tree in the front yard in order to prepare for the colder weather. “It’s almost about that time, Nat,” he said. “Halloween’s around the corner.”
This, naturally, takes me back to all the Halloweens I spent growing up in Wildwood. I’ve always had some of the best Halloweens as a kid, whether it was visiting the old “Dracula’s Castle” that used to be up on the boardwalk, or going to the Halloween dances at the old convention center, or riding around in pickup trucks filled with hay and gallivanting across the island with my family and closest friends.
I remember my favorite Halloween was in fourth grade. Like today, it was a beautiful fall day in Wildwood. It wasn’t too hot, and it wasn’t too cold. The wind blowing off the ocean was just right. I remember looking at all the brown leaves that had fallen off the tree in the front yard and had collected in piles around its trunk as I strolled up the walkway to the front door of the house after school. I couldn’t help to think that in a few short hours I’d be walking around asking for candy, dressed as my favorite Disney character.
In the fourth grade I wanted to be Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie, “Aladdin.” My mom spent the two hours before trick-or-treat fixing my hair and makeup. I was dressed in a body suit, so I wouldn’t be cold, and my purple genie costume that I wore from a dance recital the previous year.
At around dusk we set out for some candy. At this time, I still trick-or-treated with my parents, but I begged to meet up with my friends, and my parents told me that after we were done, we’d meet them at the haunted hayride down on the beach.
The haunted hayrides were always my favorite part of Halloween. It was a community thing—it always seemed like everyone from town was there. Everyone came together to get into the Halloween spirit and put on this production. This particular year, our fourth grade teacher was in it, which I remember had me extra excited.
At around eight, we walked the two blocks from our house down to the beach. I remember being scared. The sun had gone down for a few hours now, and all that were a glow were the streetlights flickering above our heads as we waited in line for our turn on the hayride. I remember finally meeting up with my friends, while my parents watched close by. When it came for our turn, we held hands and locked arms and walked through the haunted path on the beach, while ghosts and witches and zombies and goblins popped out at us. I remember being scared when the last ghost popped out from behind a dune and raced towards us, just as we exited to leave the beach. Almost in tears, I watched as the ghost removed her mask and proceeded to give me a hug. It was my fourth grade teacher.
After the hayride my friends and I went back to my house. We sprawled all our candy bags out on my living room floor and lined our candy up in rows, sorting them by type and brand. I remember trading all my Almond Joys for all my friend’s Kit Kats. I got every type of candy I wanted that year. And I got to go to the hayride and see my teacher. And I got to dress as my favorite Disney character. And I got to spend the night being terrified with my family and friends. It couldn’t have gotten much better than that.